Millions of Americans go through prolonged phases of despondency and hopelessness, characteristics of depressive behavior. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 16.1 million adults (6.7 percent) experienced at least one major depressive episode in the United States in 2014. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that major depression is the foremost disability to affect Americans aged between 15 and 44 years.
A recent study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the U.S. has indicated that the effect of raising the body temperature in a depressed person is analogous to the impact of antidepressants given to the patient.
Observations highlight antidepressant impact of sun rays
Considering the limitations of the current practice of prescribing antidepressants to treat depression, the study, titled “Whole-Body Hyperthermia for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” tried to come up with new unconventional interventions for treatment of depression.
In the study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in May 2016, the researchers indicated that they had seen a marked improvement in the mental health of depressed patients when they were exposed to the heat given through infrared lamps. The scientists suggested that the observations could help explain the antidepressant impact of sun rays. A detailed examination pinpointed that exposing skin to heat from the infrared lamps triggered production of serotonin similar to the effect of antidepressants that help alleviate mood disorder problems.
The scientists tested the effect of infrared light on 338 depressed participants through the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS). The effect of the rise in body temperature was created by using the infrared lamps for heating their chest and legs. The body temperature of the respondents rose to 38.5°C, simulating the effect of mild fever.
It was observed that nearly 60 percent respondents showed positive response to hyperthermia treatment, the rest 40 percent fulfilled the necessary standards for decrease in depressive symptoms post one session. The effect of the treatment showed effective consistency over a long period as the participants reported to have felt better even after six weeks of the treatment.
Serotonin production on exposure to heat helps cure depression
To understand the effect of heat, 14 volunteers were exposed to “sham” treatment using very low levels of heat. Fans and lights were used to make the patients believe that they were given the same level of heat as in the case of other respondents. An assessment of the patients after one week of real treatment revealed amelioration of depression scores in 34 extremely depressed patients by an average 5.67 points as compared to the volunteers in the “sham” group. The average difference was observed to be 4.83 points after six weeks of the treatment.
The authors suggested that heat on skin triggered serotonin-producing cells, which in turn changes the functioning of the brain and that this can be an effective unconventional method to treat depression. The observations are important as according to the World Health Organization (WHO), major depressive disorder is touted as the second leading cause of global disability by 2020.
Treatment options for mental illness
Depression is common among individuals. The prevalence of depressive symptoms among people of all ages makes it evident that one must not shy away from sharing his or her mental health problems. More than the increasing pervasiveness of mental problems like depression, it is the lack of accessibility to treatment that is becoming a major concern. It is important to start the treatment as soon as it is diagnosed.
If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental health issue, consult Sovereign Health for the best treatment. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number (866) 954-0529 or chat online to understand all about mental health programs and to know about our various mental health centers in the U.S.